The author wishes to thank ATS instructional designers Michael Hernandez, Joe Olivier, and Cheryl Walker, whose suggestions improved this post.

Canvas Discussions and Announcements have recently been redesigned. The new designs offer improved functionality and more closely mimic the standard threaded discussion format found in the comments section of websites such as YouTube or Reddit.

Use the New Canvas Discussions

Previously, Canvas Discussions featured threaded replies as an option you could turn on or off via checkbox. This option is no longer present, as threaded replies are now the default. You can reply to any post in a thread and start a new subthread by doing so, as in the example below.

Example of a threaded discussion in Canvas

Create an Anonymous Discussion

New to the redesigned Discussions is the option to create partially or fully anonymous discussions. When you first create the discussion, you will be asked to choose from the following options:

  • Off: the default setting, in which the names and profile pictures of all students who take part in the discussion are visible.
  • Partial: students can choose whether or not to reveal their names and profile pictures.
  • Full: all names and profile pictures are hidden.

Menu of options for anonymizing discussions

Note that a partially or fully anonymous discussion cannot be set to Graded, nor can it be assigned to a Group.

Use the Top-Level Options to Customize the Look and Feel of a Discussion

The top-level options above a discussion topic give you considerable control over the discussion’s look and feel. Note that all these options are found above the topic, not below, as was the case with the previous iteration of Discussions.

  • The search bar allows you to search the discussion.
  • The view menu allows you to choose to view all replies or only those that are unread.
  • The Sort button allows you to sort by newest replies first (the default) or oldest first (as was the case in the previous iteration of Discussions).
  • By default, replies are shown inline. You can click View Split Screen to view them in a split screen, then change it back if you wish by clicking View Inline.
  • You can use the Expand/Collapse Threads button to expand or collapse all threads.

Discussion topic with arrow indicating top-level toolbar

Use the Menu Options for a Discussion Reply

Across from each discussion reply is a column of three dots that, when clicked, opens a menu. The menu options, which are available both to you and to your students, are as follows:

  • Mark as Unread
  • Mark Thread as Read
  • Mark Thread as Unread
  • Go to Topic (for replies under the initial topic) or Go to Parent (for replies to replies)
  • Edit
  • Quote Reply
  • Delete
  • Report

Menu of options for a discussion reply

Of these options, only Go to Topic, Edit, and Delete were found in the previous iteration of Discussions; the others are new.

With these menu options, you have fine-grained control over how you navigate through the discussion. You can mark whole topics or particular threads as unread, similar to email interfaces such as Outlook, and you can also quote previous replies when responding to them.

Use the Report Button

The Report button deserves special mention here. This new functionality allows users to report a comment (though not the original topic) if they feel that it should be removed. If one of your students selects this option, they will then choose from three possible reasons for reporting the comment: Inappropriate; Offensive, abusive; and Other. The report will then go to you, and you can decide whether to retain or remove the comment.

Dialog box showing options when reporting a comment

Note that once one of your students has reported a comment, that action cannot be undone. Also note that the Report functionality cannot be disabled at this time.

Canvas Announcements

Redesigned Canvas Announcements follow much the same pattern as Discussions, including threaded replies (if you choose to allow replies). Notable differences are as follows:

  • Liking. You can choose to allow students to like replies to comments, similar to upvoting a YouTube video or comment.
    Example announcement with arrow indicating icon for liking
  • No Report option. Unlike Discussions, there is no Report option for comments made on an announcement.

Further Resources and Getting Help

Photo credit:Jean Lachat. Image obtained from University of Chicago Asset Library (UCAL).